Common Communication Format (CCF)

Pramod Kumar Singh

F What is CCF?

It is a format for the exchange of bibliographic records.

F Why we need any standard format like CCF?

CCF provides rules to achieve consistency, uniformaity and compatibility between more than one computer systems. All rules and formats (like AACR-2 or CCC) are mainly devised to achieve the consistency and uniformity in the record entry.

Within an information system, the record which forms the database will usually exists in a number of separate but highly compatible the very least there will be:-

Ø a format in which records will be input to the system.

Ø a format best suited to long term storage.

Ø a format to facilitate retrieval, and

Ø a format in which records will be displayed.

In addition, if two or more organizations wish to exchange records with one another, it will be necessary for each of these organizations to agree upon a common standard format for exchange purposes. Each must be able to convert to an exchange format record from an internal-format record, and vice-versa.

F If I don’t want to share my reources, then is it needed to go for CCF?

Not really, because the main purpose of CCF is the exchange of records not the processing of records.

F How CCF came in existence or devised?

In April 1978 the Unesco/PGI (i.e. Unesco General Information Programme) sponsored an International symposium on Bibliographic exchange formats, which was held in Taormina, Sisily. Organised by UNIBID (i.e. UNISIST International Centre for Bibliographic Descriptions) in co-operation with the International Council of Scientific Union’s Abstracting Board (i.e.ICSU-AB), IFLA (i.e. International Federation of Library Associations & Institutions) and ISO. The symposium was convened to study the desirability and feasibility of estabilishing the maximum compatibilility between existing bibliographic exchange formats.

Immediately after this symposium Unesco/PGI formed an Adhoc group to establish a Common Communication Format. At the start itself, the Adhoc group has decided certain principles which the CCF still follows like:-

  1. The structure of the format to confirm the international standard ISO – 2709.
  2. The core record, to consist of a small number of mandatory data elements essential for bibliographic description are identified in a standard manner.
  3. The mandatory elements are augmented by the well identified optional data elements.

F Then the question comes, what is this ISO-2709?

It is an International Standard which specifies the requirements for a specialised format which can hold any type of bibliographic record. It does not define the content of individual records or the meanings assigned to tags, indicators; it only describes a generalised structure, a framework designed specially for communications between data processing systems and not for use within the systems.

The ISO 2709 is a standard for record structure. The record structure of CCF constitutes a specific implementation of the ISO 2709 standard. Each CCF record consists of four major parts, like-

F what is this CCF record Structure?

As I told earlier, each CCF record consists of four major parts, i.e.,

  1. Record Label (having 24 Characters);
  2. Directory (having Variable Length);
  3. Datafields (having Variable Length);
  4. Record Separator (having 1 Character).


Each CCF record begins with a fixed label of 24 characters. The contents of which

are as follows:-

Character Positions

Assigned No. of Characters



5 Chrs

Record Length- The length of the record includes the label, directory, data fields and record separator. (Use of 5 characters for the record length permits records as long as 99,999 characters)


1 Chr.

Record Status- Using a code taken from the list of Record Status Codes from CCF manual (Pg. No.143)


1 Chr.



1 Chr.

Bibliographic Level- Codes are given in CCF manual on Page No. 144.(Character position for bibliographical level is not used in factual record & is filled with space).


2 Chrs



1 Chr.

Indicator Length- Used to fix the length of the indicator.


1 Chr.

Subfield Identifier Length- eg.,^a,^b,^c,^d,…etc.


5 Chrs

Base Address of Data- the location within the record at which the first data field begins.


3 Chrs



1 Chr.

Length of the 'Length of data field' in each directory entry- use of 4 characters here permits data field as long as 9,999 characters.


1 Chr.

Length of 'Starting Character position in each directory entry- normally we use 5 because for getting 10,000th (9,999+1th) position we need 5 characters only.


1 Chr.

Length of 'Implementation defined' section of each directory entry- Normally unused (Blank i.e., Zero)

23rd place

1 Chr.


A single Directory Entry Contains:-


3 Chrs

Tag- By using 3 Characters we can use 999 possible tags.


4 Chrs

Length of data field- A four digit number showing how many characters are occupied by the data field, including indicators & data field separator but excluding the record separartor code if the data field is the last field in the record.


5 Chrs

Starting Character Position- It gives the position of the first character of the next data field relative to the base address of the data.


1 Chr.

Segment Identifier- Choosen from 0-9 &/or A-Z to designate the data field as being a member of particular segment (Normally not used).


1 Chr.

Occurrence Identifier- Choosen from 0-9 &/or A-Z, which differentiate multiple occurrences of data fields that carry the same tag within same record (Normally not used).

A single Data Field Contains:-


2 Chrs

For Indiators


2 Chrs

For Subfield Identifiers





1 Chr

Field Separator

Then it is at the end Record Separator:-

At End

1 Chr.

Record Separator.


For Example (CCF Record Structure):-

001610000022000720004500 Ø Record Label

200004000000 Ø Tag(200), Length of Data field (0040), Starting Character Position of Data(00000).

300002000040 Ø Tag(300), Length of Data field (0020), Starting Character Position of Data(00040).

400001600060 Ø Tag(400), Length of Data field (0016), Starting Character Position of Data(00060).

440001100076 Ø Tag(440), Length of Data field (0011), Starting Character Position of Data(00076).

# Ø Field Separator

^aProlegomena to Library Classification




^aDelhi ^bJaypee



# Ø Field Separator

# Ø Record Separator.




Many of the disadvantages of CCF are based on the disadvantages of the Cataloguing Codes. The CCF is basically a tag code to facilitate data exchange between two or more systems. It should be independent of the cataloguing codes.

The field Physical description (460) which describes the physical attributes of the item can not be used to produce catalogue cards following different codes. For example: AACR insists that if there are papers numbered in roman numerals they should be taken into consideration. However, CCC does not insist on this. The problem is that the catalogue codes not only prescribe what should be descriptive element, they have formulated rules on how they should be represented.

While exchanging the data the field Place and Name of the Distributor (420) is of no use to the other system, because the distributor can vary from place to place. It can be argued that this field is provided for internal use. But there is no field to provide accession number which is frequently used for internal purposes.

The subfield "B" which describes statement of responsibility in the field Title and Statement of responsibility (200) and the field Name of Person (300) is an overlapping concept to each other.

Field Segment linking fields (080,081,082,083,084,085) does not give any clue about the linking of documents or records. Only Field to Field linking (086) makes some sense.

The Field Source of Record (020) is a non-repeatable one. But if the database is merged with a master database, then it may be repeated disputing the concept of non-repeatability.

The major disadvantage in CCF is the different codes used for data elements. In this case CCF seems to be consistently inconsistent.

For example: for the subfield 'A' which describes language of the record in Field Language and Script of the record (031) they have followed a code list from ISDS manual. The codes are in alphabets. The same problem surfaces in the fields with tag numbers 040,041,200,201,210,220,221,etc., where ever the question of language arises. The same type of problem is there in Record Status Codes, bibliographic data level codes, completeness of record codes. But these problems does not appear in character set codes like, physical medium codes, role codes, type of material codes, by using numerals instead of alphabets. Here the consistency fails.

Again no Code is given for subfield 'B' of tag 110 which describes national bibliographic agency code in the field National Bibliography Number (110) and sub field 'B' which describes legal deposit agency code in field Legal Deposit Number (111).


CCF is devised by taking into consideration the major existing International exchange formats and was intended to be used for the transfer of records between systems. This is purely an exchange format. It does not give any information about circulation system of any particular library. In spite of its disadvantages it is one of the most widely used format especially in developing countries. But still some serious, fruitful steps should be taken to overcome its problems.


  1. CCF: the Common Communication Format, 2nd Ed., Paris, UNESCO, 1988
  2. (PGI-88/WS/2).

  3. Ellen, Gradley and Hopkinson, Alan, Exchanging Biliographic data: MARC and other international format. Library Association Publishing Ltd., London, 1990, pp. 209-222.
  4. International Standard ISO 2709(E): Documentation- Format for Bibliographic Information Interchange on Magnetic Tape.( In Handbook on International Standards Governing Information Transfer by International Organization for Standards, 1977. pp. 291-294.